Friday of Epiphany 3: The Effective Word

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“For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The Word is effective. It does what it says. We meditate on this point quite a bit, contemplating that the Word builds worlds. Words cut. Words saw. Words hammer and join together. Is that analogy run too far? Look at how Hebrews puts it: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

The Word is a slicer and a dicer, which incidentally is the process required to build things. It’s a bit of an allegory, but how did God create the world? He spoke words which divided light and darkness, waters above and waters below, land and seas, and which pried out birds, fishes, animals, and humanity from the dust.

The “Holy” in Holy Spirit means “to set aside.” In other words, to separate or divide from, the hew off one thing from another.

Words cut. Words can hew peace out of a chaotic situation. When you walk into a situation of unknowns, perhaps of unknown peoples, it’s words that carve out a wholesome reality in which friendships form. How does this happen? We all know. We use words to hew down to size common interests. “You like the Beatles? So do I!” And so on. Words are effective builders of things.

Words also can dissolve. This is the second half of the proverb we frequently quote, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Words can introduce chaos and void into a situation, creating a world that saps life and spirit out of ourselves and others.

Words are effective because words hew and carve. This is why St. James centers his teaching on sanctification on the tongue. “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” Is the tongue building a world reflecting the Lord’s construction of the Church? Or is the tongue being used to build one’s own world set against that of the Lord?

When we, by self-will, construct our own worlds, our own “cosmic architecture,” or, we might say, project our own running narratives or psychodramas in which we place the characters in our lives, it’s a phantasmic and perverse image of what the Lord does. Of course, in a fallen world in which we believe we can be God – a perpetuation of the original sin – we’re constantly projecting phantasms arising from our own self-will onto the created order, believing our own little world to be the true reality. We suck others into that world, like little toys we want to manage and control to substantiate our own psychodrama.

The point is, use of that sort of word is effective, but in such a lame, dissipating, dissolving way. Our worlds dissolve. Our worlds go “poof” in an instant.

Not so the Lord’s worlds, or new worlds. As to His worlds, no greater evidence of this is to look outside your window. There is God’s reality arising from His Word, all there fore you to behold. It’s the realm you live in, and how often we have to conform our phantasmic realities to the real world. You might say it’s the eternal project of psychological healing, even at a secular level.

As to His new worlds, that is, the Church, just ponder how an institution exists in our world spread across the globe and including billions of people. Within the four walls of this literal building there is a “cosmic architecture” of peace, forgiveness, grace, and goodness. It all arises from the Lord’s Word, which itself bears testimony to Christ’s reality at God’s right hand. We mystically have heaven on earth there. It’s something a great faith – the Church faith – receives and contemplates.

The Word of God is effective. It does what it sets out to do. We hear from Isaiah: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

We look at this as a future reality. But in this context, it’s a prophecy of the new world, of which the Church is a type. Which is to say, by great faith, we can look outside – at that first world – and see the trees clapping and the hills singing. If Christ fills all things in heaven and on earth, a reality our souls are filled with by His Word in the Church, how could we not see the world in this way, as full of the goodness of the Lord?

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